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The ‘men’ in mental health: “We need to talk and make fewer judgements”

Medical cannabis patient, Jack Pierce, mental health support and what needs to change for men

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In the third of our Men’s Mental Health series, medical cannabis patient, Jack Pierce, who has a diagnosis of ADHD, autism and anxiety, speaks about mental health, cannabis and why there needs to be less judgement for men.

Read the first and second of our men and mental health series here.

It’s always difficult to know exactly how bad the problem with mental health actually is, as a lot of the cases go undiagnosed and  unreported. This is especially true for men, who often find it difficult to talk about mental health.

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Mental health access

Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women, according to The Mental Health Foundation. Only 36 per cent of referrals to the NHS talking therapies are men. As a result, men may resort to other more dangerous ways of coping with mental health strain, such as drinking, drugs or violence. Men also have higher rates of homeless and are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol.

There are many reasons why men may choose to stay quiet when it comes to accessing help. In this series, the same themes were raised repeatedly as men reported feeling pressure to be dependable and to be seen as strong. Many also felt that there was little or no help from support services, community groups or even discussion among other men or male patients. This often left them feeling alone, vulnerable and in some cases, at risk.

This silence can be deadly. The Mental Health Foundation reported that in 2018, there were 6,507 suicides of which men accounted for three-quarters of that figure. This has remained relatively unchanged since the mid-90s.

Another issue when it comes to treating mental health is comorbidity, especially when it comes to neurological conditions.

Depression is more than two times higher in those with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). And those on the autistic spectrum will find that they have higher levels of anxiety than neurotypical people.

One in five people are considered neurodiverse with a condition such as autism, ADHD, Tourettes, dyslexia, dyspraxia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Jack was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression as a teenager before his doctors reassessed him for autism and ADHD.

“I found out that my chronic anxiety and depression was actually ADHD and autism, so I got a diagnosis of both with combination ADHD. Everything changed but the depression and anxiety stayed,” said Jack.

“I tried cannabis recreationally and it helped me. I started on the legacy market before moving into the legal market. It’s difficult because I think a lot of the time, my ADHD and anxiety were masked by cannabis.

“When I got older, it became [more] difficult to mask, it’s impossible as a brain can’t mask for that many years.”

Masking can refer to two different things when it comes to ADHD or autism. Cannabis may offer relief from the constant, intense thought process of ADHD, helping to soothe or mask symptoms. It may also offer relief for those with autism.

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Masking can also mean the practice of hiding ADHD or autistic traits to fit in with the neurotypical world. It can be exhausting and also traumatic for patients to do, as it takes more energy to monitor their behaviour. It can also be subconscious as patients learn to mimic the behaviour of others and get into patterns or routines based on what they have learned.

Mental health: A portrait photo of Jack Pierce

Jack Pierce

Mental health medication

When Jack started university, his supervisors began to notice different traits, along with his exceptional grades.

“People at university started to notice different things about me,” he said.

“I went from high school straight to university and got firsts which people don’t normally do. They thought there was something different about me and wanted to look into it.”

He added: “A lot of it was pushed on anxiety and anti-depressants. I took a lot of different medication to try to solve that which didn’t go well at all and it affected the diagnosis of ADHD.”

Jack was given different medications to try which had various side effects. It can be a difficult balancing act to prescribe the right medication for ADHD when a person also has depression and anxiety or autism.

Different symptoms from various conditions can make it a balancing act to find the correct mix for each individual person. Prescription drugs can encourage a variety of dangerous or unpleasant side effects in the meantime.

Jack stressed that while he needed medication, the tablets he was prescribed made him feel ill.

“For my anxiety, I was given propranolol and then was taken off that within three days of being prescribed because I get bad heart palpitations and arrhythmia issues. It felt as if my heart was going to explode, it was causing too much pressure,” said Jack.

“I was prescribed SSR inhibitors such as sertraline and citalopram. All of those made me withdrawn, gave me night terrors and sweats. I couldn’t function and would get really upset. I wouldn’t be able to live but then without them, I would get really unwell from depression. There were some moments of complete fallout and burnout where I was lost and I needed medication.”

Jack’s night terrors that felt so real he would wake up feeling emotional and stressed.

“I would wake up in puddles of sweat, quite emotional and stressed,” he said.

“I was given hydro-paroxetine to help me get some sleep which is quite an addictive drug to be prescribed. I didn’t want to take it because I would sleep and wake up feeling like I had missed a million hours. I couldn’t function. My autism and ADHD mean sleep medication is not a good thing to be consuming because it slows me down.”

Mental health and ADHD

Jack is now prescribed Elevanse and medical cannabis.

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Elevanse is a stimulant drug often prescribed to treat ADHD in the UK. The capsules work on the parts of the brain that govern self-control and attention while helping to regulate them.  It is thought to reduce impulsive behaviour while increasing attention and concentration which ADHD patients can struggle with. Side effects can include headaches, weight loss, dry mouth, dizziness and feeling sick.

Jack decided to access a medical cannabis prescription to help with his mental health and after he became frustrated with the legacy market.

“When you are a patient using a legacy market, you are not prioritised or cared for,” he said.

“If you wake up one morning needing your medication, it may not be there and then accessing it is not always the easiest as you have to rely on other people to get it. Your mental health starts to fall because you aren’t getting treatment and having to go through that process is anxiety-inducing. I needed this plant to function.”

Jack continued: “I found out I could get a legal prescription through forums and decided to go for it. I reached out to try and improve my mental health. If I had been aware of the legal market before then I would have been able to get prescribed oils and would have been able to take a different approach, which may have improved my mental health and improved my disability.”

Medical cannabis is the last resort for a lot of patients due to the lack of education, stigma and reluctance of healthcare professionals to prescribe it. While cannabis has gained more media attention for conditions such as epilepsy or chronic pain, it is still not as well known for conditions such as ADHD or anxiety. A lot of patients find out about prescriptions by chance, the internet or family and friends, rather than healthcare workers.

University support

Universities in general are unsure how to deal with the issue of cannabis patients, as blanket drug bans mean there are usually no provisions for legal prescription holders. It’s yet another area where more cannabis education is badly needed.

Jack highlighted that there are students who are less inclined to speak publicly about medical cannabis in university. There are also many students who may risk being taken advantage of and wasting their student finance on cannabis through illegal markets.

“My university is not very supportive as I’m the first patient they have ever encountered,” he said.

“They don’t know how to advise me on taking my medication on campus, they don’t want me setting up societies because it’s advertising what is seen as illicit products. It’s still early days though and hopefully, with more conversations, we will get there.”

The figures for depression and anxiety amongst university students is also high, especially post lockdown. The Office of National Statistics estimates that one-third of students who started university in autumn 2021 are suffering from depression with 39 per cent showing symptoms of anxiety.

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When it comes to mental health though, Jack said the university is incredibly supportive.

“It’s amazing. They run CBT therapy, psychologists and taught sessions. I have a weekly session with an advisor who I can talk to about anything. They write up notifications that say I can’t be spoken to off-guard in case I stutter or get nervous. That I might leave lectures at times due to stress. They make it a nice open communication with the whole university that I don’t have to partake in as they do it all,” he said.

“It’s nice to have that support daily and feel that I can go there, especially as a male. It’s difficult to say when we struggle and that I need help right now. I’ve never felt I can’t go to the mental health team at university and ask for help. That’s a credit to them.”

Creating change

So, where does Jack think the difficulties for men disclosing mental health struggles come from?

“I think it’s a fear of being judged. The anxiety of worrying if people still view me the same,” he said.

“I’m the only male in my family, so if I get upset, it’s like I’m the oldest son who shouldn’t be crumbling. But I do and it happens. A lot of us hide it and try to put a brave face on, mask it and keep going. At times it becomes really impossible.”

Male environments and friend groups may also make it difficult, as Jack explained: “When we are in environments around males they can just say ‘get over it’. They don’t get it and think it’s just a bad night but there are times I’ve been really upset. It’s not open for us to speak out about things. It can become really difficult and overwhelming for us.”

While there is a general acceptance and understanding that change needs to happen when it comes to encouraging men to speak out about mental health, there also needs to be spaces where they feel safe to do so. It can feel that change is coming but it is a slow process.

“We live in a really difficult time. If we could drop some judgement and understand that we are all human, if that could be shown towards men then maybe we will start to open up, share our lowest moments and know it’s okay to be upset,” said Jack.

“A lot of men worry that they may lose everything they have worked for. We need to educate men that if we go through these processes, we are still the same person that we were a few weeks ago.”

He added: “I’m not great sometimes but I’m still better for knowing this than hiding it away and pretending it’s all okay. We need to just talk and make fewer judgements.”

You can read last week’s article on men and mental health here

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Mental health

Men’s mental health: “It’s something you have to deal with every day”

Ian McLauren and Sam Williamson, co-founders of CBDiablo speak about mental health support and what needs to change for men.

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Men: a blue background with the outline of a head against it

In the final part of our Men’s Mental Health series, Ian McLauren and Sam Williamson, co-founders of CBDiablo speak about how their own experiences and why they choose to give back to a mental health charity.

Read the first, second and third parts of our men and mental health series here.

Ian McLauren and Sam Williamson, co-founded CBDiablo together in 2019, an online, Edinburgh-based CBD store that has a particular focus on mental health.

Both men have experienced mental health difficulties in their lives, which made them feel passionate about offering help to others. So much so that they donate a portion of their profits to mental health charities.

Ian explained how his experience of bullying while at school, started his struggle with mental health.

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“My mental health journey started when I was a teenager. I struggled a lot with bullying and I experienced anxiety. When I got a little bit older, this led to suicidal thoughts and I needed to go to counselling,” he said.

A report from 2018, revealed that bullying can have a massive effect on pupils’ mental health. In a survey of 2,000 students, one fifth said they had experienced bullying while three quarters felt this directly impacted their mental health. A further 33 per cent reported having suicidal thoughts as a result.

“When I got to university, I got sick with a reoccurring chest infection which led to [me experiencing] depression and struggling to function,” Ian continued.

“My life is quite heavily impacted with my mental health and even today it’s a struggle. It’s something you have to deal with every day but I’ve gotten to a place where I’m on top of it.”

It can be difficult to open up about mental health, especially for men. They are less likely to access psychological therapies than women, according to The Mental Health Foundation. Only 36 per cent of referrals to the NHS talking therapies are men. As a result, men may resort to other more dangerous ways of coping with mental health strain, such as drinking, drugs or violence.

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Mental health and staying CALM

The charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) estimates that 125 people die by suicide every week in the UK, with 75 per cent of those deaths being men.

Ian said: “I spoke to my mum and she pushed me in the direction of help. I was very nervous and unsure what to do. When I was at university, it got to a point where I didn’t want to lay around in bed anymore, so I knew I needed to go and get a job and complete my studies. I went to the doctors and got help that way. I don’t remember it being difficult, but it wasn’t my choice either, I was either forced by situation, or by a parent.”

Ian and Sam met in their first year of university. After they completed their studies, they moved into marketing and SEO, but it wasn’t until they worked with a CBD company that they came across its benefits for mental health. They decided to go into business together but were determined to have a charitable focus.

Sam said: “We tried CBD when we started working with the client and we felt a benefit from it fairly early on, especially for things like sleep. Sleep is obviously a big part of your mental health.”

A lack of sleep creates a vicious circle when it comes to health. Poor sleep can impact mental health leaving a person feeling sluggish, stressed or increasingly anxious. Increased stress or anxiety can then affect the quality of sleep contributing to poor mental health.

Ian added: “We really enjoyed CBD, so we thought we would do something by ourselves. But [we wanted to] do something that means something. The obvious choice was mental health because of my own experiences. We made a beeline for CALM as well because it represents who we are.

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“I’ve got two brothers and Sam has three brothers. We both have dads or uncles and it’s not always easy to open up, especially for men. That’s why we chose a mental health charity and one with a predominately male focus.”

Men: A photo of Ian from CBDiablo

Mental Health charities

CALM is a charity that takes a stand against suicide in the UK, by raising awareness of the stereotypes, offering help and running life-saving services.

It offers a free and confidential web chat for anyone in need of help and also hosts support services for anyone who has lost someone due to suicide. While the charity is not solely focused on men, it has launched campaigns such as  #BestManProject which aims to challenge male stereotypes, encourage positive behavioural changes and address help-seeking behaviour using art, music or sport.

Both Ian and Sam decided to donate 20 per cent of their profits to CALM. They are incredibly transparent about the donation process often posting their donations to the charity on Instagram. In September, they posted that they donated £665. CALM highlighted that just £8 can answer one life-saving call and that they managed to answer over 83 of these over the month of August.

The brand also highlights mental health and wellness across their social media, choosing to focus on Movember for men’s health. Movember is the mental health campaign that sees men grow their facial hair to raise awareness.

The response has been positive. Sam explained it is one of the reasons that people stay with the brand, while they often email to say it has been the start of their own mental health journey.

“It’s a bit part of the reason why people continue to buy from us,” Sam said.

Ian added: “We get a lot of people emailing to say it’s changed their life, which is great, or that it has been a building block towards feeling better. It might have been part of their journey towards therapy or improving their lifestyle. CBD does seem to be quite a fundamental part of it for some people.”

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Men: A photo of Sam from CBDiablo

Introducing change

When it comes to changing the way men speak about their mental health, Ian highlighted that it can be a generational thing.

“I think a lot of the time, older generations of men don’t want to seem weak or vulnerable and that’s transcended down to younger generations,” he said.

“Even though things are a little better, there is partly a pride or bravado. If you are struggling with mental health or feeling bad then you’re not really meant to bring it up, so it’s awkward to talk to somebody.”

He continued: “A lot of guys don’t feel equipped to deal with that conversation either. If a friend comes to you who is struggling, then I don’t think a lot of men know how to deal with that. Girls seem to deal with it really well, it seems to be discourse between friends but for men, not so much.”

In speaking with other charities that deal with male mental health or creating communities where men can go to feel less isolated, they have also learned that sometimes it can be down to body language.

Ian added: “Apparently men like to sit next to each other, side by side, but women prefer to be face to face, which is how they like to open up. There are those key differences but it’s not clear if it’s biology that causes that. These are differences that might stop health services from being equipped to deal with different people because there are slight differences in the way people open up.”

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Mental health

CBDiablo donates 20% of profits to suicide prevention

CBDiablo is hell-bent on making a difference in the industry

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​​Industry-leading CBD company, CBDiablo is hell-bent on making a difference by offering 20 per cent of its profits to suicide prevention

There are about a million CBD brands in the UK to choose from – each claiming they offer something different from the next.

Founders of CBDiablo, Ian McLaren & Sam Williamson, set out to leave their mark on the CBD industry by deciding to donate 20 per cent of CBDiablo’s profits to The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a leading campaigner against suicide.

It is a shocking fact that every week 125 people in the UK take their own lives, with males making up 75 per cent of that number, and Ian knows he could have ended up as part of that percentage.

“It means a lot to me personally because I struggled with my mental health as a teenager which grew into suicidal thoughts and anxiety,” Ian said.

“I became quite unwell at university with recurrent chest infections and went into a spiral of depression and had a really tough time getting into my twenties. Myself and Sam have five brothers between us and we have all suffered to some degree with our mental health, and it hasn’t always been easy to discuss our struggles openly.”

How CBDiablo got started.

The pair stumbled into the CBD industry by chance. They worked with several CBD businesses for a number of years before setting out on their own in 2019 (funding the operation with only £3,000 from personal savings).

As you may expect, the same responsibility and pride that the founders hold for their mission have been extended to the products they sell.

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“We used the years of experience, knowledge and connections in the industry to find nothing short of the most effective range of CBD products we could – from ethical producers who shared our values,” said Sam.

“While there are some brands who like to market themselves as the best CBD in the UK, we like our products to speak for themselves. We have spent a lot of time researching and sourcing the most effective products we can. We take our commitment to providing the most effective CBD products we can find, as seriously as we take our social cause.”

Sam added: “I think our reviews on Trustpilot, glowing reviews from cannabis influencers and blogs, and loyal customer base speaks volumes about the range of products we have put together. It’s something we’re super proud of.”

So far, CBDiablo has donated over £11,000 to CALM which has answered 1400 potentially life-saving calls.

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CBDiablo products

CBDiablo offers a range of CBD oils & Capsules, CBD gummies and hemp extracts which all enjoy glowing recognition.

When it comes to what people think, the most popular CBD oil the company sell is their 1000mg CBD oil (10 per cent) which contains a full spectrum of naturally occurring hemp bioactives (phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and Omega 3 & 6 Fatty acids) using European hemp and co2 extraction methods.

The oil is produced in an ISO9001 & BRCGS approved facility in Edinburgh, and lab-tested by a 3rd party for safety and quality.

For those with a sweet tooth, the company sell CBD gummies, which are mouth-watering. They come with 4 assorted flavours and delivery a clean dose of hemp-derived CBD (10mgs per gummy). They have a more-ish soft, yet firm, texture and a lovely natural flavour; they do not have the lingering bitterness that some gummies have.

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The gummies also have been highly reviewed by many, including The CBD Monkey.

So, what is next for CBDiablo?

The brand is still small, but it is clear that they are carving a significant path in the industry and are close on the heels of even the most well funded CBD brands in the UK.

“We have continued to surpass expectations and growing exponentially – we have a few exciting projects in the pipeline,” Ian said.

“The next step for us is creating a CBD sports brand with BSCG certified CBD oils and CBD thermal Balms, alongside a range of Liposomal supplements.

“It’s called ‘Daemon Power and will be launching at the end of the year… our aim is to focus on supplying powerful supplements to those in extreme, impact and power sports. Particularly rugby players.”

With such a successful two years, the sky seems to be the limit for CBDiablo.

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Mental health

CBD Guides: Can CBD help with generalised anxiety disorder?

We examine the science behind taking CBD for anxiety to see if it could help with the symptoms

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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK and it can have a debilitating effect on a person’s daily life. Could CBD help to ease the symptoms?

Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress creating fear or apprehensive feeling about what will happen. While anxiety can happen to everyone from time to time, there are some people who struggle with strong feelings of anxiety every day. These feelings of anxiety can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder.

GAD is a life-long condition that can leave people feeling anxious most days or struggling to relax. The NHS estimates that it can affect up to 5 per cent of the population. It is also thought to affect more women than men.

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What are the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder?

The psychological symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can be restlessness, a feeling of dread, feeling on edge, difficulty concentrating and irritability. Patients with GAD may remove themselves from situations where they feel these emotions most such as social situations or work.

It can also cause physical feelings such as dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, dry mouth, shortness of breath, stomach aches or excessive sweating. All of which can be exhausting.

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is non-toxic unlike the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

We have different receptors throughout our bodies. It is thought that CBD interacts with these receptors by giving them signals. In particular, it may interact with the receptors, CB1 and CB2 which are found in the immune and nervous systems.

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How does CBD work for anxiety?

CBD is thought to interact with the receptors in the brain potentially sending signals to the neurotransmitter, serotonin. There is still a lot of research needed in this area to understand how the two interact.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for your mental health and lower levels are sometimes associated with depression or anxiety. This is why the prescription treatment for anxiety is usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).

Reducing anxiety in SAD

A study examining the effect of CBD on people with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) found that it may help to reduce anxiety.
SAD is a social disorder where people can feel panic at the thought of social settings or speaking to groups of people. Participants in this study were given 400 mg of CBD or a placebo. The researchers reported that those in the group given the CBD recorded lower levels of anxiety.

Improving sleep quality

Another study examined if CBD could help to improve sleep quality while reducing anxiety. The study involved 72 participants with 47 experiencing anxiety of which a further 25 had poor quality sleep. Each participant was given a daily dose of 25mg of CBD then asked to self-report how they felt afterwards. The researchers recorded that 79.2 per cent recorded reduced anxiety while 66.7 per cent said their sleep had improved after the first month.

How do I take CBD for anxiety?

There is no right or wrong way to take CBD for anxiety. It comes down to lifestyle, personal preference and availability.

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Here are three of the most popular ways to take CBD
Edibles

Edibles are great if you aren’t a fan of the hemp taste that some oils may have. They are available in many different versions from brownies to gummy bears. It’s also a discreet way to have a dose of CBD without anyone knowing.

However, there are some downsides to edibles

They can often be found in sugary sweets which can be difficult if someone is following a particular diet or reducing their sugar intake. Edibles can take longer to work so if you need a quick dose of CBD then this isn’t the method for you.

A large percentage of CBD can be lost in the digestion process meaning that you may absorb less than the amount you had intended.

Patches

Patches are a good choice if you often forget to take oils or capsules on a regular basis.

They can be applied to the skin easily and left for a day or two depending on the brand. They are designed to be discreet and forgotten about. The CBD in the patch is absorbed through the skin and into the system.

Oil or tincture

Oils and tinctures are the popular way of taking CBD.

There isn’t much difference between the two as they are both ingested through the mouth. To take, pop a small drop of oil or tinctures under the tongue allowing it to absorb for a few minutes before swallowing.

The main difference between tinctures and oils is the carrier. Tinctures use alcohol whereas oil is, well, oil. Oils normally use a carrier such as hemp, rapeseed or flaxseed. Tinctures will usually have a sweetener or flavouring added to mask the bitterness of the alcohol.

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Anxiety: A variety of different ways to take CBD including capsules, skincare, oil, sprays and pwoders

What is the best CBD for anxiety?

There isn’t one particular method or type of CBD that works for anxiety. It comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. If the above methods don’t appeal then there are loads of other ways to take it including bath bombs, skincare, massage oil or even capsules.

There is bound to be a method for everyone.

How quickly does CBD work for anxiety?

While it does depend on different factors, some are faster than others.

If you vape or use oil then it will be faster acting than edibles. It is also worth noting that weight may also play a part in how quickly a dose affects you. It’s best to start with a low dose letting it build up over time. A lot of people when new to CBD expect it to work instantly as if it was the same as paracetamol. CBD takes time to build up in the system.

Keeping a record of the different effects you feel can help you to determine future doses, what brands work for you and what methods you prefer.

Would CBD help with depression and anxiety?

CBD is also thought to help with depression as well as anxiety. The two conditions are usually closely linked.

A study from 2011 examined the effect of CBD on people with SAD. The participants were given either 400 mg of oral CBD or a placebo. Those who were in the CBD group reported feeling less anxiety.

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